Today, it’s becoming even more of a struggle to get films like “Easy Rider” and “Silent Running” made at all. In the ’60s and ’70s, people were part of a monoculture that would digest the same kinds of entertainment together. The countless films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and once-in-a-decade movie experiences like “Avatar: The Way of Water” are the closest we come to that as a culture now.
When “Easy Rider” came out, it was a phenomenon. With our fractured culture today, it’s near impossible to again capture that lightning in a bottle. No studio really knows what’s going to become a hit. When the counterculture started to actually become the culture, studios were forced to take chances, resulting in filmmakers that were given the chance to make unconventional, thought-provoking movies.
Peter Fonda’s Captain America helmet and bike symbolized freedom in a much different (and eventually tragic) way in 1969. With the influx of the MCU, the closest thing we have to that now is Captain America’s shield. Yes, it’s the same stars and stripes but they represent something entirely different to people, then and now. One stands for possibilities, the other represents protection. When Fonda’s Captain America bike is cruising down the highway, it’s an anti-government symbol; when Steve Rogers throws up his vibranium shield, it’s decidedly pro-government.
The environmental themes in “Silent Running” also mean something different today, now that we’re more aware of the planetary effects humans are having on the Earth. The “Avatar” franchise uses those themes in a subtle way, too, they’re just using a massive budget to sugarcoat themes of imperialism, deforestation, and ocean rights. “Silent Running” just did it for a million dollars 50 years ago.